An Indian man who built himself a home inspired by traditional Japanese architecture and developed his own version of the Japanese tea ceremony now entertains his guests in the house located in Santiniketan, a town in India's eastern state of West Bengal.
Nilanjan Bandyopadhyay has been lauded in the local media for fulfilling the long-held dream of renowned Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, who during his lifetime had wished to build his own Japanese house in the same area.
Named "Kokoro" after the Japanese word for heart, the house stands in the small town located around 150 kilometers from the state capital Kolkata and is where Visva-Bharati, a university founded by Tagore, is also constructed.
Here, Bandyopadhyay, a poet and calligrapher, incorporates Indian customs into the tea ceremony in the downstairs room where a "tokonoma" alcove is decorated with a hanging scroll, featuring Japanese calligraphy and a flower vase.
Upstairs, there is also a small tea room lined with tatami mats, which can be entered through a door located under a bookshelf in Bandyopadhyay's study.
"The ceremony is very simple. I combined the tea-making traditions of Japan and China, as well as other elements," Bandyopadhyay said while explaining the ritual he began in 2021, which he has named the Bodhi Cha ceremony.
"Bodhi" means Buddha in Sanskrit while "Cha" means tea in Bengali, as well as in Japanese.
Bandyopadhyay uses various tea leaves for the ceremony, including Japanese green tea, Chinese Pu'er tea and Darjeeling, depending on the occasion.
In India, one of the largest tea producers in the world with famous tea-producing regions such as Darjeeling and Assam, people drink black tea with milk and sugar, but tea ceremonies are not practiced.
Kokoro has a hearth and an iron kettle that hangs in the living room on the ground floor of the two-story house. There is also a bathtub, a rarity in India, and from the veranda, the garden landscape can also be viewed.
Known as a skilled cook of Japanese cuisine, Bandyopadhyay grows mitsuba herbs in his garden, a Japanese wild parsley not easy to get hold of in India.
Since first visiting Japan in 1999, the 49-year-old had always wished for his own private space for hosting Japanese and Indian friends whenever they visited Santiniketan. He came to Japan at the request of the late Tagore scholar Kazuo Azuma, who needed assistance editing a Bengali version of his book.
"I fell in love with Japanese culture and its beautiful traditions," Bandyopadhyay said. To return the kindness he was shown in Japan, Bandyopadhyay decided to make building Kokoro his project.
Tagore, the first Asian winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913, visited Japan several times and served as inspiration for the house's creation because of his passion for traditional Japanese homes. It was completed in 2018 with the help of Japanese architect Kengo Sato, 34.
Bandyopadhyay was influenced by Azuma, who had taught at Visva-Bharati and died in 2011. He says he is happy to have also fulfilled the dream held by Tagore, who traveled to Japan five times and was captivated by its architecture.
Incorporating the Indian custom of prayer before meals, Bandyopadhyay makes an offering of a cup of tea in respect to his ancestors and the tea gods before serving guests.
During the ceremony, a teapot or teacup is preheated with hot water. The tea is served three times, with the hope that guests enjoy the various colors, aromas and tastes that change with each serving.
"This practice is an appreciation of the fact that everything always changes, and we need to develop an attitude of acceptance to it," Bandyopadhyay said.
He also places miniatures of animals in front of guests, using them as topics for short stories he narrates after the ceremony.
"We try to talk about things which cool you down and which will elevate you to a spiritual level" during the ceremony, Bandyopadhyay said. "As a result, people always want to come back again with more of their friends."
Bandyopadhyay has also written a book called "Kokoro: Imagining Japan in Santiniketan" about the house and his unique tea ritual.
Although he has become widely known around India, some have mistaken Kokoro for a teahouse they can visit unannounced as paying customers. Bandyopadhyay therefore plans to build another one in Santiniketan for the public to enjoy, with Sato as the designer.
"I really want to make it a public place. I want people to come there and meditate," he said.